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Federal Appeals Court Issues Decision in Cantrell v. City of LB, et. al. (LB Naval Station case)

  • Appeals panel sides with LB area residents on federal environmental (habitat/mitigation) issues; reinstates action against U.S. Dept. of the Navy

  • Upholds lower court's dismissal of plaintiffs' action against defendants City (and Port) of LB, Harbor Commissioners and CA Lands Comm'n., saying plaintiffs can't bring state law taxpayer claims in federal court where "standing" requirements are tougher

    We Post Link to Complete Opinion

    A federal appeals court has given a partial victory to Ann Cantrell and several LB area residents in their suit involving the former LB Naval Station, reinstating their federal environmental allegations against the U.S. Dept. of the Navy over habitat and environmental mitigation.

    However, the three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling dismissing plaintiffs' state law claims against the City (and Port) of LB, Harbor Commissioners & CA Lands Commission alleging waste of taxpayer/tidelands resources and the like in the destruction of the Naval Station buildings and facilities.

    Regarding the suit's federal environmental claims against the Navy, the appeals panel sided with the plaintiffs (LB & Lakewood residents Ann Cantrell, Lou Anna Denison, Ken Larkey, Collette Marie McLaughlin, Richard McLaughlin, Billie Schaeffer, Glen Underhill, Margherita Underhill.)

    The three-judge appeals panel, in a unanimous opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, reversed a lower federal court ruling that had dismissed the environmental claims relating to habitat, mitigation and the like.

    Even though the Naval Station's park-like habitat and facilities have been destroyed, this does not render the environmental allegations against the Navy moot, the appeals court said:

    ..."[I]f required to undertake additional environmental review, the defendants could consider alternatives to the current reuse plan, and develop ways to mitigate the damage to the birds' habitat by, for example, creating new nesting and foraging areas on the land that was formerly the station or utilizing other nearby land for mitigation purposes.

    "Since effective relief may still be available, the demolition of the Naval Station was insufficient to render the case moot."

    Accordingly, the appeals court remanded the case to the federal district (trial level) court for further proceedings on these issues.

    Significantly, the appeals court opinion was issued "for publication," meaning it becomes legal precedent that can be cited in future environmental cases and is binding on other federal courts in the ninth circuit, the largest of the 13 federal court circuits. It includes all federal courts in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

    We post a link to the complete, verbatim appeals court opinion below.

    Although ruling for the plaintiffs on federal environmental grounds, the appeals court said that while the plaintiffs may well have (had) standing under state law to bring their allegations on waste of taxpayer and tidelands resources in state court, that didn't help them in federal court where requirements on standing to sue [when a party is sufficiently impacted personally to have the right to sue] are harder to meet.

    In pertinent part, the appeals court wrote [with bracketed inserts by for clarity]:

    "Here, the birdwatchers [plaintiffs] have not made a sufficient showing of a direct pocketbook injury resulting from the destruction of the Naval Station and the construction of the marine container terminal. Most of the birdwatchers' allegations involve construction costs and potential financial losses facing the Port of Long Beach, which does not receive tax dollars and is financed by its own revenues. Similarly, the birdwatchers will suffer no direct pocketbook injury from the bond issues relating to the conversion of the station and the alleged misuse of tidelands trust assets. The other portions of the amended complaint relating to the state law claims do not establish a relationship between tax dollars and the reuse project, but merely contain conclusory statements regarding waste of taxpayer monies, often indiscriminately lumping together allegations regarding waste of funds belonging to the Port, to the city, and to the tidelands trust. Because the birdwatchers have not alleged a direct injury caused by the expenditure of tax dollars, they have failed to satisfy the requirements of taxpayer standing for purposes of Article III [federal court jurisdiction].

    The appeals court did not substantively rule that the City of LB made the best decision in choosing to demolish the Naval Station facilities, only that plaintiffs in the suit did not have the right to challenge it in a federal court.

    The named defendants in the suit were the City (and Port) of LB, Port Commissioners Hancock, Hearrean, Kashiwabara, Perez and now-former Commissioner Murchison, the CA State Lands Commission and the U.S. Dept. of the Navy.

    The Court of Appeal has posted its opinion on its internet web site. (The Court's web site is in no way related to ours; their page is on the internet and available to the public.)

    After reading the Court of Appeal opinion, hit the "Back" key in the top left corner of your browser to return to

    To view the Court of Appeal opinion, click on: Cantrell v. City of LB, et al.

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